Bonding

These last few days I have been thinking a lot about the bonding that occurs when a baby is born between the mother and baby. What does it feel like? Does it affect the love you have for your baby? Do you have a higher chance of having PPD if it doesn’t happen? Does it affect breastfeeding if it isn’t there?

So very many questions.

I am going to illustrate my answer with the story of my daughter and me, most of which I have barely even just admitted to myself…

I had an emergency cesarean with my daughter, and when she was pulled from my body and the cord unwrapped from around her, we waited for the cry. And waited… and waited… Finally, she made a tiny noise, and then nothing. They knocked me out, and my husband went with my daughter to the nursery.

I remember waking up briefly in recovery, and a couple nurses saw my eyes were open. I tried asking how my daughter was (because I figured they would want a new mom to ask that…), but before I got my mouth to work, they knocked me out again.

The next thing I remember is them coming in and asking if my incision hurt. I was in a different room, and my husband wasn’t with me (he was calling everyone). I remember feeling like my insides were being ripped apart, and when they asked if I wanted morphine, I was too drugged up to think about how morphine makes my pain worse and makes me feel high. So, they gave me a pill and from the second I swallowed it I was in agony. I was in and out of consciousness, because of what they used to knock me out, and I don’t remember much about the pain. A couple hours later they came in and asked if I wanted more and I was alert enough to tell them that “if you even offer that to me again, I will end your career.” (Feel kinda bad about saying it, but it was on my chart that they shouldn’t give me hard core painkillers).

After they gave me a tylenol, I remembered to ask about my daughter. Not because I was worried, but because new moms are supposed to ask how their kids are if they aren’t with them. I felt nothing for her.

The nurse said she wasn’t sure, and went to the nursery. I waited for about 2 hours, and she finally came back with a polaroid of my baby. It was blurry and she didn’t really look like a baby to me. I said thanks and put it to the side and went back to sleep.

A few hours later, they brought me in my dinner and then asked if I was going to breastfeed. I told them I was and asked when my daughter was going to come so I could feed her. The nurse looked confused and then asked if anyone had told me about her condition. I said no, and she explained that since my daughter was on high levels of oxygen, I couldn’t breastfeed. She had an IV of sugar water that would keep her sugars up and keep her hydrated.

I figured they knew what they were doing, and didn’t bother to question. I did ask if I could see her, and they said that maybe later someone could take time out of their schedule to take me.

I didn’t even equate that I had a child, so it didn’t seem that big of a deal to me.

7 hours after birth rolls around, and the nicest nurse at our entire hospital comes in. She asks how I am and if I had met my baby. I tell her I hadn’t, and if I was allowed to yet. She got really upset and went storming out to find out why a mother hadn’t met her baby, cesarean or not.

She came back in at 8 and said that I could see her in one hour. They were changing shifts, and Glade was having a bath, so I would need to go a little later. But she was going to come get me in 30 minutes so we could get my IV pole, my catheter, and me onto a wheelchair to go down.

I figured that was fair, and just relaxed.

They were weaning me off the drugs in my system so I was pretty loopy at the time. I had a drug for nausea, itching, anxiety, leg spasms, pain, and the stuff to keep my blood pressure up from the epidural, plus whatever they gave me to knock me out. I could barely keep my eyes open for a half hour and it seemed like moving just hurt. Because of all the pressure they put on my stomach, coughing or laughing made me feel like I was going to pass out from pain.

She finally came back and took me to meet my baby.

I had never heard that you only have a short time after birth to actually ‘bond’ with your baby. When I saw her, I could hold her hand, but I couldn’t hold her. I knew she was mine, but I had absolutely no connection to her. I didn’t really feel that this was truly the baby I had carried for 9 months.

The next day I got to hold her, and I felt like I was just holding one of my friend’s new babies. She didn’t feel like mine. I didn’t know anything about her. All I knew was that I couldn’t hold her for more than a half hour every 3 hours, and she couldn’t nurse so I had to pump round the clock.

When I was told she was transfering, I didn’t cry. My husband broke down, but I was fine. I called all the family and told them, got in touch with the hospital about rooms, got signed out, talked to the life flight crew, and I was just fine. It felt like my friend needed me to help, and I was there to do it. It wasn’t my baby.

When she was transferred to the NICU, the staff were great about having us do skin to skin and helping me when she was allowed to. But we actually spent more time outside the hospital than in the hospital with my daughter. We went to the mall to shop, and Walmart to shop, and Target to shop, and Kmart to shop…. we were there when I needed to feed her or pump. And at night.

When we took her home, I would sit and hold her for hours, and just stare at her. Even though nursing was great, I still didn’t feel a connection to my baby at all. I would get so frustrated when we tried to have her sleep in her crib and she would just cry. Finally we decided to co-sleep, but before then I would be awake all night long with her and some days I actually thought that my life would be better if she just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. I felt so alone and I had a baby that wasn’t mine.

I went 9 months with this beautiful idea of what it was going to be like to have my baby, and when it actually happened, it took months for me to realize that I truly love her and she is my baby. I loved her before, but I felt absolutely no connection to my child.

One of my best friends described the bonding with her son as ‘it’s like love at first sight, just 10 times better’. I felt like such a loser asking her haha. I completely imagine myself, looking with big eyes and asking like a little kid “What did it feel like?”

When you have a vaginal birth, when your baby passes your cervix, your body releases an amazing amount of hormones, called by some people the ‘love cocktail’. This ‘high’ is felt by mother and baby when they gaze at each other for the first time.

I had no idea that this high was only if you had a vaginal birth, and it can only be felt from the first minutes of life until the first few hours, if then. And that some people don’t bond with their babies at all.

When I spent months thinking that my baby didn’t feel like mine, I was completely crushed. I had expected so much to come of this, and then all I felt was this empty hole where my baby was supposed to be and wasn’t.

This led to PPD (post partum depression), and I denied that pretty fervently for the last couple years. I was so overwhelmed, and had no one to talk to, and I was taking care of someone that I didn’t have a connection to. It’s like I was a robot.

In our society, you are supposed to look like the perfect mom from the minute your baby comes out. Good birth or bad, your baby is all that matters. You get told time and again if you had a bad birth or if something went wrong that you should just be ‘grateful that your baby is healthy now and not look at the past so negatively.’ The past is what makes you who you are. Good AND bad.

We have all this pressure to be perfect, and when it doesn’t turn out that way, depression can set in very quickly, especially for the overtired new mom of a screaming baby she doesn’t have an attachment to.

Now, some people would disagree with me, but I personally think bonding is absolutely crucial between mother and baby. If you have that bond the first bit of your babies life, you can look back on it on the bad days when your baby blues seem to never end.

If you don’t have that bond, what do you have to look back on? Absolutely nothing.

I know there are a lot of studies that suggest that pitocin and epidurals and such cut down on bonding, and I am sure they do. Your body won’t release the wonderfully natural love cocktail when your baby is born. But I don’t think it stops it completely. You are bound to receive enough that bonding is amazing.

I just don’t think that women that have cesareans even stand a chance at that amazing feeling.

So many women are made to feel like they are being judged for how they look at their baby. So many women are depressed because they didn’t get to bond with their child. So many women need compassion and love, instead of strange looks and whispers.

If you feel that you need someone to talk to, and you are having a hard time after your baby is born, please don’t hesitate to call someone. I didn’t call anyone, and that led to the first few months being the worst of my life.

You are NOT ALONE. I don’t care what anyone says. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to love your child right away. You don’t have to do things exactly how people think you should.

But you should call a friend or someone if you are feeling overwhelmed. Just having someone there makes a world of difference.

So, I know this was kind of a rambling post, and sorry about that… It did make sense in my head before I wrote it down. Hopefully you caught my drift.

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10 Responses

  1. I know how you feel because I went through it with my first child, which also was a cesarean. People do not realize that cesareans do play a big part in the lack of bonding between mother and baby. Still to this day I feel myself having to force myself to be a "good" mom, or what in my mind is a good mother. It gets better over time.

  2. Kayce – The bonding issue is always a weird one for me b/c I also felt a lack of initial bonding with my son. For some reason, even though I had an all-natural homebirth, I totally missed out on the "birth ecstasy" thing. After DS was born, I wasn't even interested in him – I just wanted someone to take him away so that I could crawl into a hole and die. Honestly, the birth was just so stinking painful that I think I was a bit traumatized. It really took me a couple of weeks to warm up to him and get really interested in him. Hopefully I'll have better luck with our next! But I guess that lack-of-bonding can occur in non-c/s births as well, though probably not nearly as brutally!

  3. I'm so thankful for your openness and honesty. I'm going to forward this to one of my students who just had a c-section… thank you…

  4. I was terrified of not bonding. I knew it wasn't just this automatic process for everyone. I was so relieved when bonding didn't seem to be an issue. I am glad you are willing to talk about this. I hope it was a relief to get those thoughts out into the open.

  5. Really good post. I'm glad I'm not alone with the non-bonding.

  6. I'm sorry you had to go through that. Why did they put you out after the c-section. That just seems wrong. How traumatic. Several women in my ICAN group talk about this too. I feel very bonded to my daughter, but I still mourn that I missed those first few minutes, hours, and days to hold her and bond with her.

  7. With my son, I had a scheduled c-section and it went very well and was not traumatic. I didn't hold him right away, but as soon as I was out of recovery, I held him and kept him with me for almost the whole hospital stay. I thought he was interesting right away but didn't recognize him like I thought I would. I thought it was because of the c-section, but with my daughter (unmedicated VBAC) it was the same way, even though I did hold her right away. It wasn't a bad feeling, I just kept them with me and co-slept and breastfed and it was a much slower process (a few days/weeks) that I felt,"Of course, I know you." Luckily, it didn't take too long, but it wasn't immediate with eother cild. I think some people just bond differently, though separation and heavy sedation and birth trauma definitely make things worse.I had excellent nurses both times, but especially for my VBAC. They treated me like this was one of the most important days of my life, even though they see 30 babies a day. I think that made a difference in having positive experiences even though I didn't experience instant complete bonding.

  8. This breaks my heart because I am a lucky one who felt that instant bond right away, with both births. Both were natural, unmedicated births, and I was skin to skin right away. I hope that you will have this experience the next time around.

  9. Informative article, totally whhat I needed.

  10. Thanks , I have recently been looking for infomation about this subject for a while and yours is the grfeatest I have found out till now.
    However, what in regards to the conclusion? Are you csrtain concerning the supply?

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